Sports

Matt Rhule keeps making the Panthers worse and worse

The Carolina Panthers are in deep, deep, deep shit. Deeper than their 5-12 record shows, and more pronounced than most people are talking about. It’s gotten to the point where it’s difficult to find a team with more dysfunction than Carolina, outside of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Most of the time it’s unfair to focus this all down on one individual, but it’s become abundantly clear that Matt Rhule is completely destroying the team he’s supposed to be coaching to victory, and damaging the organization far beyond anything most coaches are capable of.

Rhule was on shaky ground for much of the season, but his actions this week have caused the foundation in Carolina to fracture. When Rhule decided to fire offensive coordinator Joe Brady mid-season and throw him under the bus for not sharing his football vision, it reeked of a dude trying to save himself. Nothing changed when Brady was gone, and the Panthers looked worse offensively to close out the year. On Tuesday, more coaches were sacrificed at the altar of Rhule’s incompetence, with the team announcing that offensive line coach Pat Meyer, defensive line coach Frank Okam, and special teams coordinator Chase Blackburn were all being fired as well.

Meyer and Okam were both Matt Rhule hires in 2020 when he took over the top job. Blackburn had been with the Panthers since 2018, and was presumably thrown on the fire as well so it changed the optics of Rhule being unable to evaluate talent

This is really at the heart of Carolina’s problems: Matt Rhule is unable to evaluate talent at any level. Two of his hand-picked coaches are now gone for not working out, he’s whiffed on starting quarterbacks in back-to-back years, and he only threw gasoline on the fire when asked Thursday why the Panthers, who desperately need offensive line help, decided against drafting Rashawn Slater.

Slater was recently named to the Pro Bowl in his first season with the Chargers. One of the only knocks on Slater in the pre-draft process was his arm length. Coincidentally, arm length appears to be an issue for Matt Rhule on a personal level as well, because he’s behaving like a football dinosaur.

To make matters worse: Rhule has almost complete control over the Panthers. The highly-coveted college coach seen as a “program builder” who turned around Temple and rebuilt Baylor, there was no shortage of teams who were interested in him. Owner David Tepper decided to make this his big marquee move, landing the coach everyone wanted and giving him the moon for it. Not only was Rhule given huge money, but he was allowed to hand-pick every aspect of his coaching staff, no matter the cost, and have a multi-million dollar analytics department built to him to execute his “modern” and “analytic” approach to football.

Now, two years later, Rhule is on the radio saying that he wasn’t interested in drafting a player who would become a Pro Bowl left tackle because his arms were too short. This flies in the face of modern football analytics, it runs counter to the way successful teams think about NFL players. Adhering to arbitrary size figures without examining talent, technique or statistics-based data fundamentally runs counter to the “modern” approach Rhule made his bill of goods.

On Thursday Rhule also addressed the quarterback position, saying that he decided not to draft Justin Fields or Mac Jones because he felt Sam Darnold was “in the same category.” Let’s be abundantly clear: There is no category in which Darnold is similar to either player. Jones was demonstrably better in every way in 2021, while Fields struggled in his rookie year but showed flashes of promise towards the end of the season that showed future hope.

Darnold started the season strong, and quickly became the exact same player he’s been for three years. Rhule made the call to extend his contract early as well, putting the Panthers in quarterback limbo.

It’s become apparent that this entire exercise is no longer about winning football games for the Carolina braintrust, it’s about saving face. Rhule is desperately hoping something will click, and until then he’s willing to throw anyone under the bus to keep his head above water. Meanwhile David Tepper, proud as billionaires tend to be, has shown no willingness to admit he got duped by Rhule during the hiring process, and has instead chosen to vanish at a time fans are wanting answers. It was Tepper’s call to hire Rhule without a GM being in place, so the blame falls on him, and his ego isn’t allowing him to pull the bandaid off and let this wound heal.

There are organizations with deep systemic problems, but at least the Jaguars and Giants had the guts to make the tough call and move on. The Panthers seem content with letting this situation ride out, and for the Panthers to death spiral into oblivion. It doesn’t need to be this way, but it’s happening.



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